Camps Boone and Burnett

    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 

Camps Boone and Burnett, Tennessee

Geoff Walden


   As is well documented, the nucleus of the Orphan Brigade was formed at two enlistment and training camps in northwestern Tennessee, near Clarksville.  These camps had been established by the Confederate government for the organization of Kentucky units, during Kentucky's period of official neutrality, in the summer of 1861.  The camps were established just across the state line, along the Louisville & Memphis railroad, to facilitate travel from Kentucky.

   Camp Boone was laid out in early July 1861 by three men who had been authorized to raise a Kentucky regiment for Confederate service:  William T. Withers, Robert A. Johnson (of Louisville), and James W. Moss (of Columbus).  They were soon joined by Robert J. Breckinridge, Jr. (of Lexington), and Lloyd Tilghman (of Paducah).

   William Temple "Temp" Withers was a native Kentuckian, a Mexican War veteran, who was living in Mississippi in 1861, and was sent by Jefferson Davis to help Confederate recruiting in Kentucky.  He was appointed a temporary General, and was placed in command of Camp Boone (later, apparently, including Camp Burnett).  He applied himself enthusiastically to his job, constantly urging the Confederate government to accept more Kentucky volunteers than the 26 companies he had been authorized to raise, and to arm all who volunteered.

   The site selected for Camp Boone was an excellent choice.  In addition to its location just 3-1/2 miles (by road) from the state line and a little over a mile from the railroad, the site supplied ample water in the form of Spring Creek, which flowed around it on two sides and was fed by a cool clear spring nearby, and plenty of firewood.  The site also featured large flat fields, ideal for teaching new recruits the complicated 19th century infantry drill and maneuvers.  Gen. Withers estimated that a force of 10,000 could be fed from the supplies available in the area. 

   In fact, the only thing lacking was arms for the new soldiers.  Modern military muskets were simply unavailable, and the men had to make do with antique flintlocks, shotguns, and squirrel rifles.  Even so, a considerable number remained unarmed even after the Confederate forces had moved to Bowling Green in mid-September 1861.  In fact, the scarcity of proper arms was not completely alleviated until the battle of Shiloh, when the poorly armed parts of the 6th and 9th Kentucky regiments armed themselves with Enfield rifle-muskets captured from the Federals at the Hornets Nest.

   The organization of the regiments at Camp Boone proceeded swiftly, with the 2nd Kentucky Infantry mustering on 17 July 1861, and the 3rd Kentucky Infantry three days later.  The 2nd Kentucky was commanded by Col. James M. Hawes of Lexington, with Capt. James Moss commanding Co. A, and Capt. Robert Breckinridge commanding Co. B.  Robert Johnson served as Hawes' Lieutenant Colonel.   The 3rd Kentucky Infantry was commanded by Col. Lloyd Tilghman.  Edward Byrne's artillery battery, which had been recruited and organized in Mississippi, also mustered at Camp Boone. 

Click here to see a group image of 2nd Kentucky Infantry soldiers taken at Camp Boone.

   The remaining men were not yet enough to form another regiment, and Col. Robert Trabue, under authority to raise the 4th Kentucky Infantry, moved these men to a new camp not far from Camp Boone, in August.   Here, at Camp Burnett, Trabue gathered more recruits from Kentucky and combined various understrength companies until he had enough officers and men to form the 4th Kentucky Infantry, which was organized on 13 September 1861.

   Meanwhile, the Confederates had occupied Columbus, on the Mississippi River in western Kentucky, and the Federals had occupied Paducah.  Gen. Simon B. Buckner was ordered to take charge of the force at Camps Boone, Burnett, and Trousdale (a training camp for Tennessee troops, north of Nashville on the L&N railroad, near the state line), and occupy Bowling Green, which was done on 18 September.  Col. Hawes had left command of the 2nd Kentucky for a commission in the regular Confederate Army, so Col. Tilghman temporarily commanded the Kentucky Brigade from Boone and Burnett, the nucleus of the Orphan Brigade.  Tilghman was promoted to General in October, leaving the Brigade under the command of Buckner until Gen. John C. Breckinridge arrived in Bowling Green in November, and assumed command of the First Kentucky Brigade as an officially organized unit.

   His task in Kentucky over, Temp Withers returned to Mississippi to raise a regiment of artillery and eventually to serve in the Vicksburg campaign of 1863.  Camps Boone and Burnett were left to history.

   The location of Camp Boone is well established.  A historical marker on modern US Hwy. 79 between Clarksville and the state line explains the significance of Camp Boone.  This marker is across the road from "Idlewild," the antebellum Mimms home (recently the home of the late Norman Rawlins, SCV).  The location of the camp itself, in the fields and woods on the other side of Spring Creek, behind and below "Idlewild" is confirmed by period relics found in the area, including a militia belt plate and a Kentucky state seal button.

Boone.jpg (15439 bytes)

Camp Boone marker on US Hwy. 79, with Idlewild in the background.
The marker is somewhat inaccurate, as Gen. Buckner did not command here,
and the regiments listed at the bottom as Kentucky cavalry regiments were actually
the infantry regiments mentioned in this article (the 5th Ky. Inf. was not formed here).


   The location of Camp Burnett is another matter entirely.  Camp Burnett is mentioned neither in the surviving Official Records reports, nor on the historical marker above.  Local relic collectors who showed the Camp Boone relics to the author were not familiar with Camp Burnett, and were not aware that there had been another camp in the area.  Period references from the 4th Kentucky Infantry (apparently the only unit organized there) are conflicting on the camp's exact location, which has variously been described as "three miles south of Camp Boone" and "one mile from the Kentucky line," which contradict each other.

   However, a letter written from Camp Burnett on 4 September 1861 gives enough clues to establish an estimated location for the camp, probably within a couple hundred yards.  The letter writer said Camp Burnett was three miles from Camp Boone, on the land of Capt. Meriwether.   A map of Montgomery County, Tennessee, from the 1870s shows three houses belonging to W. D. Meriwether, all within a mile of each other, just south of the state line between the railroad and the Clarksville & Russellville Pike (modern US Hwy. 79).  In addition, the land in this area is well watered by Spring Creek (upstream from Camp Boone) and has sufficient high ground for camping as well as flat land for drilling.  This location is convenient to Hampton Station railroad depot (even closer than Camp Boone), and is along the Clarksville-Russellville Road (another reference established the location as adjacent to the pike).

   In light of the above, I believe Camp Burnett was located in the area between the railroad and US Hwy. 79, south of the bridge over Spring Creek, 6/10 of a mile from the state line (by road).  If anyone has access to any period maps showing a brick church in this area (said to have been in or near Camp Burnett) or any other Meriwether property, or if anyone knows of any period camp relics dug in this area, please contact the page author at .

   Note - Info provided from Cleo Hogan shows that the Oikadelphia Church on Spring Creek was probably the "brick church" referenced at Camp Burnett. This church burned sometime after the war.

Burnett.jpg (52851 bytes) 

Probable location of Camp Burnett, looking southeast from Hwy. 79,
about 3/4 mile from the state line



Ed Porter Thompson, History of the Orphan Brigade (Louisville, 1898), pp. 43-44.

Official Records, Ser. I, Vol. IV, pp. 243, 367-68, 373-74, 376-80, 407.

"Kentuckians Going South," Louisville Daily Courier, 11 July 1861, p. 1.

"Lochiel," "Kentucky Brigade for the Confederate States' Service," Louisville Daily Courier, 16 July 1861, p. 4.

H.A.M. Henderson, Letter from Camp Boone, Louisville Daily Courier, 20 August 1861, p. 14.

George W. Sheets, Letter from Camp Burnett, Louisville Daily Courier, 17 September 1861, p. 4.

"Sketch of Life of Gen. W. T. Withers," undated clipping, Lexington Herald.

John H. Weller, "Chaplains of the Fourth Kentucky," Southern Bivouac, Vol. 1, No. 3 (November 1882), pp. 116-117 (mentions brick hospital in or near Camp Burnett).

John H. Weller, "The Fourth Kentucky," Southern Bivouac, Vol. 1, No. 9&10 (May-June 1883), pp. 346a-347a.

John L. Marshall, "Col. Thomas W. Thompson," Southern Bivouac, Vol. 1, No. 1 (September 1882), p. 12.

Samuel R. Flora, ed., "'I consider the Regiment my home': The Orphan Brigade Life and Letters of Capt. Edward Ford Spears, 1861-65," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 94, No. 2 (Spring 1996), p. 139 (letter from Camp Boone, 23 August 1861).

Map of Montgomery County, Tennessee, ca. 1872, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.


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Comments to page authors:

Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at)
Laura Cook
: lcook62 (at)

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